The Irish Copper Kings

The Irish Copper Kings

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The Copper Kings were the three industrialists Marcus Daly, William A. Clark and F. Augustus Heinze. They were known for the epic battles fought in Butte, Montana, over control of the local copper mining industry, an area once described as ‘the richest hill on earth’, writes, PAULA REDMOND

Irishmen were instrumental in some of the largest copper, silver and gold discoveries in the nineteenth century. Their findings led to the formation of new towns and cities in America and Australia.

Born in Dublin, John MacKay, along with three other Irishmen, made their fortune on the Comstock Lode, the first major silver find in the US. A Cavan native, Marcus Daly, once controlled the largest copper mine in the world and Paddy Hannan, a Clare native, made a discovery that resulted in one of the largest ever gold rushes in Australia.


Some became multi-millionaires from their discoveries, while others did not.


The ‘Copper Kings’ was a name given to three industrialists in the United States in the late 1800s. They consisted of Marcus Daly, William A. Clark and F. Augustus Heinze. Daly was born in the townland of Derrylea (near Ballyjamesduff), Co. Cavan, in December 1853, and emigrated to America when he was fifteen. He worked in New York before travelling to the west coast where he gained employment in mining.
He gained invaluable experience of the industry working on the first major silver discovery in the US, the Comstock Lode. By 1871 he had moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he worked as a foreman for the Walker Brothers company, supervising their local mining and banking interests. It was here that he met his wife Margaret Evans with whom he had four children.


In 1876 Daly travelled to Butte, Montana, to examine the prospects of a silver producing mine called ‘Alice’ for Walker Brothers. He oversaw the purchase of Alice and retained a one-fifth interest in it for himself.


While managing Alice, Daly, a self-educated mining engineer, sought out other potentially profitable mines. In 1881 he purchased the Anaconda mine in Butte from Michael Hickey (born in America to Irish parents) for $30,000. Daly developed the mine with the assistance of George Hearst (father of newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst), Lloyd Tevis and James Ben Ali Haggin, co-owners of the Ophir Mining Company.


Daly knew Hearst as he had previously sourced the Ontario mine for him some years earlier – the Ontario was the source of the vast Hearst fortune.


The Anaconda was rich in silver for the first few hundred feet but Daly hoped to exploit its copper resources. With the depletion of silver in nearby mines, prices of local land and mines dropped, so Daly purchased them at reduced rates and formed the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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